Chemical Warrior

When Phyllis Glazer learned a chemical plant was making her East Texas neighbors sick, the wealthy Dallas homemaker could have cut and run. Instead, she chose to stay, fight, and win.

Last month, American Ecology agreed to drop its racketeering suit against Glazer and her family. In return, Glazer withdrew the counterclaim, as well as the federal suit against the company asking that it be shut down. (The suit pending against the EPA was dropped after the plant closed.) She considers it a victory. She paid the company nothing and refused to sign any agreement that would silence her. The company, however, agreed not to sue her again on any of the claims in the original petition.

Larry Levine, an attorney representing American Ecology, said he could not comment on the suit, because the settlement was confidential. Glazer says there was no confidentiality agreement, and she's delighted to talk about it.

"I believe they settled because these polluters did not have a case and never did have a case," Glazer says.

Though Dallas is now her home base, Glazer returns to her Winona ranch every few months. "I go back for funerals generally. That can keep you in Winona."

Last month, she lost her good friend Charlie Adams, a 62-year-old man who died of lung cancer. In October 1997, Amanda Carter, the 11-year-old daughter of her ranch foreman, died of Hodgkin's disease. Amanda spent the last two months of her life at Children's Hospital in Dallas. Phyllis was by her side every day.

Since the plant's closing, some people have reported improvements in their health. Phyllis' mouth ulcers disappeared, but she still suffers from short-term memory loss, and her septum is practically gone. Penny Adams, a young girl who developed respiratory problems at age 3 and was so frail she could not leave her house, has gotten so much better, she can now attend school.

After the second explosion in 1993, Marian Steich's 600 chickens died, and she developed skin cancer over her entire face that required repeated painful chemical peels. Steich had enough and moved from the farmhouse her grandfather had built. She has since moved back to her farm, where both she and her new chickens are thriving. Earlier this year, American Ecology settled Steich's personal-injury lawsuit for $350,000.

But these are the exceptions, Glazer says. "This was a monster. And it took everything we had to close the monster down. We won on every front. But too many people are still suffering. Too many people are still battling just to get their medical bills covered. And too many people still lost their lives.

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